For as long as I can remember, I need a challenge in order to truly bring out the best in myself. Lacking that feels like I’m in a rut or back on my heels in some horribly passive limbo. It’s not a great feeling at all. Perhaps I can explain better by way of example.
My freshman year of high school, I was in English class and doing OK at it, but something was missing. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what exactly it was, but something didn’t seem totally right to me. I came into high school with the very well-intentioned advice from my middle school guidance counselors ringing in my ears to not get in over my head by taking some (but not all) honors classes.
Well, this English class was one step down from honors and it hit me one day: I was bored out of my mind. As a kid who knocked out the Lord of the Rings trilogy in 5th grade, I needed more. I needed to get pushed. So after a few months, I switched to honors… and my grades actually went up. Funny how that works.
I don’t think I ever really lost this trait of needing to see what I could do or where I could take myself. Hell, if I find myself feeling blah or in a rut, this is the most-likely culprit.
With that in mind, I’ve been watching a lot of the World Cup… and sometime during the multitude of matches I watched, the soccer itch crept back into my life. Not surprising either. See, I love weight training, Prowler pushes, golf and all the other physical shenanigans I get myself involved in these days, but the thing they don’t provide me is head-to-head competition in a team environment.
Oh sure, you can play in golf scrambles and teams from various gyms will compete together in a Crossfit competition or powerlifting meet… but there is something about a collective whole being greater than the sum of its parts as it faces over against (hopefully) equally-matched competition. It’s one of my favorite athletic highs. You and your teammates staring down an opponent on the field and launching yourself into the game with an unspoken “Get some…” amongst all of you.
But lest you think it’s only about my wanting to hang out with peeps and knock heads against our foe, there is another challenge in the midst of all of this:
The reality that… one day… playing these kinds of sports at a healthy level of competition will pass me by, never to return.
At age 41, I’m sure a lot of people would think playing soccer against 25 year old punks who played in college might be a silly endeavor. Hell, maybe it’s exactly that.
HOWEVER… and yeah, I just all-capped that business right there… the process of working towards being ready to play against competition younger, faster and more skilled is something I actually enjoy. The challenge isn’t just the being on the field and playing. The challenge that may be just as satisfying is what I need to do to myself ready in the first place.
Hence, in an 85 degree gym, I got at it:
Even more interesting was as spent as I was at the end? A few minutes later, all smiles and feeling good. Because I pushed hard. Because I kept going. Because I took steps towards getting my 41 year old, incredibly good-looking self ready to run down 24 younger punks on crisp Fall mornings.
If you feel an inevitable creeping rut or, worse yet, you are looking up from the bottom of rut and wondering how the hell you got there… find your challenge. That thing that will get you fired up and the blood moving. Physical. Mental. Spiritual. Whatever venue that calls unto you most strongly.
Just get to it. Get at it. And feel that bit of victory for your soul that will follow from a good, determined fight. You’re worth at least that and likely much more.
Good Lord… the BURN. I couldn’t believe the fiery sensation starting in my shoulders and flowing into my upper arms. Despite my best efforts and intentions to fight it, I had to drop to my knees, try not to audibly curse my instructor as being a closet sadist and somehow “find my breath”.
Yup – I was in the throes of learning that yoga was laying a first-rate beat down on my seriously inflexible self. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves and take it back to the beginning of the journey.
I like to be a bit transparent on this blog, at least the best I can. I had been mulling over doing yoga for some time based on two critical facts: (1) I am about as pliable as structural steel; and (2) I tend to hold onto stress way more than I should. I’m no yoga expert, but those have always appeared to be the big value propositions for yoga practice. On a side note, you know you’ve been working in Corporate America way too long when you write about “value propositions” for something like yoga… the least corporate thing you could possibly imagine. See? I need yoga even more than I admit.
The flexibility piece only became more important to me as I’ve gotten closer to, and now, just north of 40 years old. And honestly? I think it has less to do with age and more to do with my daily work state (seated at a desk and working on a computer) combined my chosen exercise style (lots of weight training).
The stress piece has always been a lingering thing. It’s one of those things where it’s easy to become so accustomed to it, you forget what it feels like to be perfectly mellow and content (save for vacation and sitting on a beach with nothing in particular to do). But despite my growing generally accustomed to high stress levels, I knew it wasn’t a good idea to just let that be. It was time to get some change, pronto.
Into The Fray
I’ve tried yoga before, most notably bikram yoga. If you’ve not familiar with bikram, it’s a 90 minute program comprised of 26 postures… done in a sweltering hot room and designed with the sole purpose of making you hate life and question your ability to make intelligent decisions on what is “good for you”. I walked out of classes a few times feeling like I had been beaten with a blunt object and my eyes completely bloodshot from the heat. So if you want a yoga style that makes you look akin to a meth head, then hey, this is totally for you. (Obviously, your results may vary and a few of my friends really like bikram… but they cray-cray).
In looking for something that would balance out the full-tilt style of my lifting and conditioning program, I came across Downtown Yoga in Hartford (you can find them on the Web here and on Facebook here). What was so appealing about them was their accessibility and the fact that every class could be scaled to your individual abilities. Plus, their interest in being connected to the community also interested me – as easy as it is for locals to rip on Hartford relentlessly, I’ve always had a bit of a chip on my shoulder about it having grown up around here. That and the fact that I have zero patience for people who bitch, whine and moan without even making a modicum of effort to see what the city may have to offer. (Here’s a hint: More than you would think)
So down I went to Downtown Yoga about a month ago and gave it a whirl for their “Un-rush Hour” class.
My first class was with Mike and I had little idea what to expect. I was the first person to the class and my goals were simple: try to relax and pick a spot at the back of the room so my lack of yoga-tastic skills would not be on display. I set up up where I thought would be a good spot in the back corner. Turns out I had no idea how the room was used… annnnd I was in the front row. Sweet mother of God.
Needless to say, based on this blog post, I survived. Heck, I even went back and have been on a two-times per week roll. So why would a meathead like me get so hooked on yoga? Lots of good reasons.
Performance. Since I’ve started yoga, I’m already starting to move a little better and feel a little better. My insanely tight hips are now just super tight. That’s a big win. I look forward to them now improving to wicked tight, then pretty tight and then to kind of tight. One day? I dream of decent and in my wildest dreams, I hope for them to be loose and fluid. But for now? Small steps. Also, I am finding my shoulders are feeling more stable and solid. I may have all that downward dog to thank for that… which is probably the only time you will hear me give any kind of positive remarks on that posture which provided the delightful burning sensations described at the outset of this blog.Plus, when I do things like squats, I am more comfortably able to get lower. That’s huuuuge.
Challenge Without Competition. I’m naturally competitive. If you have ever seen my Foursquare check-ins for yoga, they tend to be things like “I’m totally going to win at yoga tonight.” Obviously, there really isn’t any “winning” at yoga (although yoga competitions do exist) and I’ve actually enjoyed that. I’m a little surprised with how much I’m not comparing how I’m doing against my classmates. Oh sure, I do check a bit out of curiosity – no one is perfect on this. However, I don’t do it that much because I’m more concerned with I am doing personally and… well… I’m probably battling hard on whatever posture I am attempting and don’t have the inclination to see what everyone else is up to.So, you’re profoundly challenged, but it really doesn’t matter what anyone else is doing. There are no points in yoga. No score. No playoffs. Just you, your instructor’s direction and your breath. Simple.
Dat Good Feeling Doe. Every time I’m done with a yoga class, I feel good. No, I feel really good. Without question, the physical movements, concentrated breath-work and stretching of the yoga itself gets the bulk of the credit for it. However, there were at least 2 truly unexpected factors for this feel-good buzz as well. The first is that yoga gets you so involved in what you’re doing for the entire time you are practicing, you don’t tend to think of much else. Honestly, how nice is it to shut your brain off for 90 minutes from the 1,001 things you usually have bombarding it? It’s glorious.The second piece was even less expected – how the instructors close the class.
Let’s take Jenny (the delightful head instructor at Downtown Yoga) as an example. You finish all of your poses and postures, take some time to lay in Savasana (the only pose I am good at – lying flat on my back with my limbs spread out like I just got knocked out) and then come to a seated position to finish. Then you know what Jenny does? She thanks each person in class for the fact they decided to come and share their practice with her that night.
It’s simple, sincere, warm and always leaves me with a smile to see that someone is actually grateful for my sharing my less-than-graceful yoga practice with her. In turn, this makes me feel grateful. It’s infectious.
So this full-time meathead had expanded his horizons, gone out of his comfort zone and taken his overly competitive mindset to the much more serene, flowing world of yoga… and come out the better for it. I have a really long way to go and, actually, I’m OK with that because that also means I have a lot of opportunity to get even more benefits. I can’t say if every tightly-wound athlete/corporate warrior would enjoy this like I do, but it’s clearly worth a shot. I’m still finding I’m learning a lot about myself with each class, especially from the mental toughness standpoint (which is actually more like being non-resistant versus rigid).
Plus… I know I can still win at this yoga SOB. Somehow, damn it.
Hi – I’d like to take a moment to introduce myself. I’m Kevin. Since we are going to be spending 366 days together (you sneaky leap year, you!), I thought it was best if we spent a few minutes getting to know each other. But I guess that’s actually the first lesson of the year isn’t it? The fact that our relationship is completely one-sided in every way, shape and form.
I will tell you everything about me. You will tell me nothing about you until the moment it happens.
I will give you my heart, commitment and best effort every day. You will give me absolutely nothing.
I will expect nothing from you. You will expect and demand everything I’ve got… and then some.
Anyone who would look at our relationship from the outside would immediately classify it as hopelessly dysfunctional. In some ways, they’re certainly going to be right.
But mostly? I disagree and do so vehemently.
See, despite the fact that you may be great or indifferent or just a flat-out raging SOB, you are the only option I have… but more than that, you are what will challenge me, inspire me and knock me down, thus giving me a chance to pick myself up, dust myself off and be better than I was before lying flat on my back.
I have plans for us, 2012. I really do. Oh I know you find that amusing. It’s funny in the vein of the quote attributed to Woody Allen of “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.” I get it, but plan I shall and will bob and weave to take on the wrinkles you will throw my way.
I know a lot of people in their Facebook posts or blog articles are talking quite a bit about how they will dominate 2012. That’s not as much my style, but not because I don’t want to do that. Rather, I will give it my best every single day and test my limits as often as I can. I don’t look to dominate you, 2012… I look to dominate me.
So here’s to the next 365 days of our relationship. You will not willingly give me anything and I will willingly give the best of me. And that’s just fine in my world.
Love, hugs and kisses,
P.S. Don’t get cocky, 2012. I might be humble, but I’ll be damned if you think I am just rolling over for you…